Managing by the Grid

Managing projects requires the best skills that managers have to offer. Keeping all resources coordinated toward achieving the project's goal can often be a significant managerial challenge. How can understanding the different attitudes of managers toward the human resources and the other resources involved make project management a little easier?

In 1964, two academics in the field of management, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, published their landmark book The Managerial Grid: Key Orientations for Achieving Production Through People. The theory behind the managerial grid has been used for 35 years is training managers about working with people. But the Grid also has significant implications for managing projects. A review of the Grid and its underlying assumptions can help project managers look at managing projects and resources more effectively.

In general, the Managerial Grid measures a manager's biases toward the two major elements of success in organizations: the concern for people and the concern for production. Plotting these concerns on a grid and then identifying five different management styles based on the relationship between these two elements is the basis for the Managerial Grid theory. A representation of the Grid is as follows:

Managers with a high concern for people and a low concern for production are identified in the Grid as practicing Country Club Management (grid position 1,9). These managers have a tendency to give thoughtful attention to the needs of the people involved in the organization and in creating a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. We all know of some Country Club Managers: these are the ones who have lots of social interaction, may put company sports teams or service projects high on his list.

Those who operate at the other extreme are identified as authority-obedience managers (grid position 9,1). These managers focus on productivity with little concern for individuals. They focus on streamlining operations so that the human resources interfere as little as possible with the other resources. Many of us also know these kinds of managers, and frequently label them as "tyrants" or "slave-drivers." They get the work done, but at the sacrifice of some of the human resources.

The impoverished manager (grid position 1,1) tends to focus on doing no more than is the absolute minimum to get the required work done, and keep his superior off his back. He or she tends to have very little concern for either the human element or the production level of the team. Impoverished managers don't last long in responsible organizations.

The 5,5 manager is categorized as the Organization Man. This is a manager who is constantly trying to balance the concerns of the workforce and the concern with getting out the work. He or she constantly tries to compromise between the two competing forces, keeping morale reasonable but not excellent and production close to expectations without significantly exceeding them. He or she tends to burn out rapidly as they keep both elements neither happy nor unhappy.

The ideal manager is identified by Blake and Mouton as the Team Manager, with a grid position of 9,9. The team manager understands that need for high concern for both the human and the other resources of the organization; these managers work toward helping their people improve their commitment, developing relationships of trust and respect with employees and others, and in enhancing productivity through a focus on common vision and mission.

Implications of the Grid for Project Managers

1. No one style works best all the time. While many would agree that the 9,9 management style is ideal, it would not work in a crisis. When a building needs to be evacuated, there is not always time to be sensitive to morale issues. Project managers should be sensitive to their situation and modify their style as needed based on the circumstances.

2. Working with people is half the battle. The Managerial Grid model validates that at least half of the manager's role is to manage people. At times in the project management process, we find ourselves spending more time managing easier resources. Focusing half our energy or more on managing the human resources can yield positive results.

3. Don't just manage the measurable. Money, time, equipment costs and the like are easy resources to measure; they come with built in measurement. Human resources are more challenging to measure, and are more complex to understand and to allocate. Avoid putting your faith in the resources that lend themselves well to metrics, and devote time and focus to the human resources that sometimes defy measurement.

By using and understanding the Managerial Grid, project managers can focus more on the human side of the management equation, and can identify ways to modify their managerial strategy based on resources and circumstances.